On Sunday, the makers of the Oscar-nominated documentary "The Square" appealed to prospective Egyptian audiences to refrain from watching the film online.
“To our Egyptian friends, we know you want to see the film as much as we have dreamed of showing it in Egypt,” they wrote on their Facebook page. “To be able to do that, we need your support. Every time the film is pirated, and the wrong version is shown, we lose our audiences.”
The film has so far not been screened in Egypt, despite being the country’s first Oscar nominated film.
Ahmed Awaad, the head of the censorship authority, told media that the request to show the film was made by the Panorama of the European Film in November. The final version that is currently being shown on Netflix — online streaming service — and in cinemas worldwide, was not submitted, according to Awaad.
Director of the film Jehane Noujaim told privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm that she has not received any response from the censorship board at all. The filmmakers submitted another request for permission to screen the film after they were requested to do so.
Many in Egypt have already seen the film, either by using virtual private networks to access Netflix — which is not legally available in Egypt — or by accessing versions of the film through YouTube and other video hosting sites. Additionally, there were two private-screenings for Egyptian media and invited audiences at the downtown offices of "The Square" on Monday evening.
Even if paperwork is cited as the main issue preventing screenings, the film’s footage of security forces attacking protestors that formed the vanguard of the uprising also runs contrary to official current narratives of the security forces' “revolutionary” stances.
So far state owned newspapers have not covered the film — searching for Noujaim, the films title, and even "Oscar" does not return any results. Recent private media coverage has focused on the ongoing censorship, or paperwork, battle depending on which narrative one takes.
Noujaim herself has said that her goal was to provide “a voice and platform” for the activists depicted, according to a film review by Evan Hill on Al-Jazeera English. This was evident, at least to the reviewers.
Mada Masr’s own review by Jenifer Evans notes that the film maintains an “air of romance around the square [that] is outdated, if not completely false.”
In the New York Review of Books, Yasmine Rashidi writes about that same romance in “What We Learned in Tahrir.” She points out the subtler points of the film, like the generational differences, the elitism of some activists, and those that didn’t go to the square — something the Al-Jazeera review focuses on in more depth. But the violence and bonds that were forged, tear gas, and camaraderie are mentioned almost in the same breath. The square, like in the film by Noujaim (a childhood friend of Rashidi’s), is made out to be glorious.
Two beltway reviewers took an opposite approach. They focused on the activists, their shifting alliances, tactical missteps, or revisions of history.
On the Washington Post’s foreign affairs blog, Max Fisher argues that the film stands to further engrain antipathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. Writing in The New Republic, Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute, touches on this, but focuses instead on organizational questions and the activists' refusal to adopt more institutional channels of political participation.
These reviews — or lack thereof — are indicative of the authors' (and their bosses’) respective political experiences and biases; after all, they all watched the same version of the film, something that so far Egyptians haven't had access to.